“Raising More than Peas,” Ensign, Apr. 1984, 72–73
Last spring my four-year-old daughter and three of her friends offered to help me plant the peas. The only rule I made was that the children put the seeds in the furrow I had dug and that no two seeds touch. They were delighted. Later I told my husband I didn’t know how neat the pea patch would look this year. He smiled and said, “We’re raising more than peas.” We have found that children and vegetables grow quite well together, and that the experiences the children have in a garden can last a lifetime.
Here are a few projects we have enjoyed with our three pre-school children.
Each spring we start a few seeds inside the house. Although our home-grown tomatoes are seldom healthy enough to survive outdoors, our children have experienced the excitement of watching seeds sprout and grow. We always buy extra plants from a local nursery, so the success of our seedlings is not important to our summer harvest.
Each year our children help us plan the garden. Using catalogues, they help choose what we will plant. Once we ordered a packet of “mystery” seeds and planted a “mystery” row in the garden. We found we had beets, carrots, and assorted unusual greens. We also had one turnip and a soybean plant.
In planning, we often choose small varieties of plants. The children seem fascinated with eating an entire cantaloupe all by themselves. My son, who wouldn’t touch a standard tomato, pops cherry tomatoes into his mouth with great delight.
Every year we grow something new. We have found that we really don’t care for eggplant, but the purple blossoms are beautiful. Growing sugar-snap peas introduced us to many delicious oriental recipes. And my children discovered they love spinach when it is fresh from the garden.
We let the children help plant the garden. We have found that vegetables grow just as well in crooked rows as in straight ones. If the seeds are planted too closely, we can always thin them later. We set out delicate plants during nap time or let the children plant beans with Daddy while Mommy plants tomatoes. Sometimes our children dig a hole for us to set a plant into.
We try to mark out paths through the garden with grass clippings or black plastic. The children know they can walk there without hurting the baby plants. The mulch also helps to limit weed growth.
We give the children free access to certain sections of the garden. They know they can snack freely as long as they don’t waste what they harvest. Ripe raspberries in our small patch seldom last a morning. After the first big picking, a few peas ripen slowly to reward the child hunting for something to nibble on. Carrots always need thinning. And I would rather have my children snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables than asking for candy or cookies.
When I do need the produce, I give the children chances for tasting. “If you help me pick the peas, you can have some to snack on.” “You may have any strawberries you can find near the house, but please don’t pick any in the patch near the roses.” Our children have been pretty good about following our rules, especially when they can see why we have made them.
Our plot is not a gardener’s dream. We always end up with too few strawberries and too much spinach, and sometimes a few small vegetables get trampled by tiny feet. But our children love gardening. They thrill to see the first green leaves push through the soil. We’re raising more than peas, and we hope our harvest will be a rich one. Loretta L. Evans, Idaho Falls, Idaho